Director Elisa Paloschi is an alumnus of Doc Institute’s 2010 Breakthrough Program. Her documentary Driving with Selvi, filmed over a staggering 10 years, tells the tale of a former child bride who escapes to become South India’s first female taxi driver. She launched the film on the 2015 festival circuit to great acclaim; it premiered at Raindance UK, was named an Audience Favourite at IDFA, and earned the Truth to Power Award at Reel Asian Film Festival. The film was recently picked up by ITVS for their Women and Girls Lead Global program.
Elisa gave us the lowdown on pitching, making yourself memorable, and how Breakthrough helped her career.
What are some tips for directors/producers preparing to pitch a project?
ELISA PALOSCHI: Learn as much as possible about the person or company you’re pitching to. Look at their programming and see how your film would fit in. There’s no point pitching a film about puppies to the History Channel. You want to talk directly a channel’s needs, or have a story that will excite them.
Talk about your project from your heart rather than from a speech. Otherwise, you’ll sound cold.
Do you use a trailer for pitching?
ELISA: I used to, more than I do now. So much of pitching is relationships: getting to know who you’re talking to and hearing what they have to say. If I’m in a formal pitch situation and they haven’t heard of the film, then I’ll show a trailer.
No matter how great your trailer is, it’s too long. The first year I pitched at Hot Docs, my trailer was five minutes long! I remember sitting there, feeling absolutely awful. I have a minute and a half trailer now. You just want it to open up the door.
What advice would you give to anyone pitching at Hot Docs or other festivals this year?
ELISA: The long-term game of networking will outweigh pushing a pitch onto someone you haven’t met before. Get to know as many of the decision-makers as you can. Don’t necessarily pitch your project.
Make sure to go to the parties and happy hours. That’s where you’re going to meet people and have a quiet moment to chat with them. Those aren’t the best places to pitch (people are there to have a drink and chill out) but that’s where you can mention your project title and the one-liner.
One thing I do: when I’m at events and I see someone like Tabitha Jackson [Sundance Doc Film Director], I’ll say hello, say my name, say my project name – and then walk away. I don’t try to push my project. The idea is to get people to know your name and the name of your film. They’ll remember you next time.
Don’t pitch in the bathroom.
How did the Breakthrough Program help with Driving with Selvi?
ELISA: When I was part of Breakthrough, I met Claire Aguilar [then at ITVS] at a Rendezvous meeting. She fell in love with Selvi. ITVS [eventually] picked up the film for their Women and Girls Lead global program.
The Breakthrough Program opened up a hidden world. As an emerging filmmaker going to an event like Hot Docs or IDFA, it’s incredibly overwhelming. The Breakthrough Program helped us navigate that. It was also really helpful learning the protocol of these events. If no one knows you, no one will pay attention to you. The program helped connect with people you wouldn’t normally get to meet with.
And being with a group of colleagues helps you navigate the social aspect of the networking. I met so many people in that Breakthrough year from all over the world, we meet up at other festivals, and we still talk about collaborating together. It really is helpful as a breakthrough plan.
To apply for the 2018 Breakthrough Program, click here. Deadline is December 5, 2017.